DNA at 60

Sixty years have passed since Francis Crick and James Watson published a one-page paper that many believed would revolutionize biological research. But has their discovery really had the transformative impact that the world expected?

LONDON – On April 25, 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson published a one-page paper that many believed would revolutionize biological research. Building on the work of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, they had discovered DNA’s double-helix structure, providing the first glimpse into how organisms inherit and store biological information. But, 60 years later, has their discovery really had the transformative impact that the world expected?

The media marked the publication’s 60th anniversary with much fanfare, hailing the breakthrough that “ushered in the age of genetics,” and calling it “one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.” The British newspaper The Guardian featured the headline, “Happy Birthday, DNA! The golden moment that changed us all.”

To some extent, they are right. The finding forms the basis of genetics and has opened up promising new research areas, such as synthetic biology, in which biological systems are created or modified to perform specific functions. Likewise, it has facilitated important innovations, such as pharmacogenetic cancer treatment, in which drugs target specific genetic defects within cancer cells.

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